Long Island’s “Big Valley”: Stephen Valiquette

By Joe Muccia


Long Island’s “Big Valley”: Stephen Valiquette

Stephen Valiquette has been bounced around in the past, but this year he won’t be going anywhere but Bridgeport or Long Island.

Background
Stephen Valiquette was not always Islander property. He was originally drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in the 8th round (190th overall) of the 1996 Entry Draft. At the time of the draft, he had been playing for Sudbury of the OHL. Over a four-year period, he posted a record of 41-52-10 with 7 shutouts until he was traded midseason (1997-1998) to Erie. With a much better Erie squad in front of him, Valiquette was able to post a 16-7-3 record with 3 shutouts in 28 games.
Not taking into account the Sudbury team that Stephen played for, the Kings were not impressed enough by the young goaltender and chose not to new his entry-level contract. Seeing the potential in the lanky netminder, Mike Milbury and the Isles stepped in and signed Stephen to a 3 year contract in 1998.
Assigned for the 1998-1999 season to Hampton Roads of the ECHL, Valiquette posted 18 wins (including 1 shutout) in 31 games there. The combination of the trading of Tommy Salo, Felix Potvin being injured and Marcel Cousineau being called to Long Island to back up Wade Flaherty, necessitated the moving of Valiquette to Lowell of the AHL. At Lowell, Stephen absorbed a loss in his only appearance for the Lock Monsters.
During the 1999-2000 season, Stephen must have felt like a yo-yo. He bounced from Trenton in the ECHL to Lowell and then Providence in the AHL, then on to the Islanders. All told, he performed admirably, notching 14 wins in 27 ECHL and AHL games combined. Late in the season, he was finally called up to the big club. He appeared in 6 games (four of those appearances in relief) notching his first NHL wins against Atlanta and Ottawa. Over the six games, Valiquette was 2-0-0 with a 1.87 GAA and .949 save percentage. The win against Ottawa was a magnificent display of goaltending. Valiquette allowed only one goal even though Ottawa had 46 shots on the big netminder. Many Ottawa players were impressed by the tall puckstopper that had stonewalled them.
2000-2001 saw Valiquette assigned to Lowell and then onto Springfield. Late in the year, one of his teammates stepped on one of his uncovered feet in the locker room. This accident ended Stephen’s season. The damage wasn’t career threatening and Stephen began his rehabilitation. Seeing that Stephen still has much untapped potential, the Islanders resigned him recently to a 2-year contract.

Vitals
“Big Valley” is the biggest goaltender to ever play in an NHL game. At 6’5”, 213lbs he covers much of the net without a lot of effort. Surprisingly, for a big man, he is very agile. His lateral movement is deceptively quick and he challenges shooters well. Valiquette is also very good at cutting down angles. He is technique is sound, but unspectacular. He uses his big frame to take away much of the net and lets the shooter commit first.
There are certain areas that Stephen needs to improve upon. He needs to learn to control rebounds a little better. He also does not have an extremely quick glove hand. It seems, due to inexperience, as though he is hesitant in the early stages of a game. As the game progresses and Stephen makes saves, he becomes more and more confident (example: the Ottawa game).
There is nothing wrong with Stephen’s game that cannot be improved upon with a little seasoning in the minors.

What the Future Holds
“Big Valley” has all the tools to be a very good NHL back up. Stephen will most likely, due to depth, have the starting job in Bridgeport unless Rick DiPietro is assigned there. He will provide his usual solid workman-like style of goaltending to the SoundTigers. The Islanders will have the benefit of having two excellent young goaltenders carry the team through the future. In addition to his hockey skills, Stephen is a genuinely nice person. He treats the fans with respect and always has nice things to say to them.
Valiquette along with the rest of the Isles netminders will benefit from Isles new goaltending coach Billy Smith’s tutelage. “Smitty” will undoubtedly help “Valley” improve his puck handling and overall technique. With some more time in the AHL to hone his skills, Stephen will be an important piece to the success of the Isles in the future. Only time will tell if Isles fans will be treated to watching “Big Valley” and “The Rick” forming a puck stopping partnership for the Isles in the same manner as “Smitty” and “Chico” did.
For now, Isles fans will have to be satisfied knowing that Stephen will be gaining more experience stopping pucks in a SoundTigers uniform next season.